The reward and challenge of performance in the television series

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


Television offers a set of opportunities for performance, both for the performer and the audience. For the performer, the television drama series presents an opportunity to inhabit a character for a far greater length of time than on film, possibly over several years, therefore giving them time to develop and hone their performance. As a result, television can afford the performer a model of acting practice that has many benefits, including the time and space for professional development and stability. For the audience, the television drama series permits a familiarity with performers and their gestures, ways of speaking and moving. One of the pleasures of the long-running television series then is this kind of familiarity and in-depth knowledge or understanding of a performer’s work. For the critic, there is a significant challenge to be undertaken in evaluating the expressive achievement of such extended performative textuality and the accumulation of meaning over time.

This talk will explore the particular possibilities granted performance and challenges to performance analysis by the serial nature of television drama, taking an example of performer’s work across two different series: Timothy Olyphant in Deadwood (HBO, 2004-2006) and Justified (FX, 2010-2015). In his performances Olyphant utilises parallel gestures, facial and vocal expressions, and ways of walking - a restricted performance range within which there are subtle differences and changes adapted for use with each character. The refinement of such modifications is noticeable precisely because they are presented through the medium of television, that repeated contact over several years allows the performer’s fine-tuning of their style and enables the appreciation of this by the viewer. Through the course of my analysis, I will seek to highlight the value of a restricted acting range in counterpoint to the emphasis placed on achievement through transformation that so often dominates popular appreciations of performance (especially in film).
Period22 Nov 2018
Event titleScreen seminars at Glasgow
Event typeConference
LocationGlasgow, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionNational


  • television
  • performance
  • acting